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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

We Are Now Craving Marlin Biryani, Which Is Not an Easy Itch to Scratch

Nov.03.16

We Are Now Craving Marlin Biryani, Which Is Not an Easy Itch to Scratch

by Jesse Lewis

Biryani in Mauritius

“You like biryani? Spices, basmati rice, roast chicken. Only the best,” says Muslim Patene, the Bhandari, or biryani master, at his hawker stall in the back of the market in Flacq, a town on the northeast coast of Mauritius.

All over Mauritius people eat biryani: a rice dish made from long-
grained basmati rice, meat, potatoes, and spices. It was traditionally a Muslim dish created for celebrations, but its popularity transcends religious and ethnic boundaries in multicultural Mauritius.

But how did this South Indian dish reach this island? There’s a clue in the name for biryani chefs in Mauritius: Bhandari was the name for a cook in a crew of Lascars (South Asian sailors or soldiers) on British Navy ships in the colonial era, which stopped in Mauritius to bring indentured labor to work in sugar plantations.

The biryani’s origins are traced back to North India’s conquering Mughal emperors, who brought the dish to South India, along with their chefs. According to historians, it was originally conceived as a grand, luxurious dish for the thousands of guests at the royal court on special occasions. To make these huge quantities of biryani, Mughal chefs invented a special pot in which to cook it, called a deg. These conical pots have a large bottom and narrow neck, so that steam condenses and rolls down the curved slope back into the food, enriching it with flavor.

Muslim says it takes them seven or eight hours to prepare these huge degs of biryani. While everyone else is tucked in bed, the family starts cooking in the predawn darkness. Most Bhandaris across Mauritius serve chicken or beef biryani, but Muslim’s family also serve vegetarian and fish versions. I usually order marlin biryani with an icy bottle of Coke. Each time I return, the portions seem to get bigger as the crew get to know me as a regular.

Heaping piles of basmati rice infused with spices, whole pods of cardamom and splinters of cinnamon bark hide cuts of roast meat, along with the obligatory potato. Then of course there are the condiments: pickled radishes and onions, a dab of spicy green chili paste, homemade tomato chutney, and sweet tamarind sauce lumpy with black seeds. The flavors are both exciting and comforting.

Sitting at a plastic stool at one of the white linoleum tables behind Muslim’s cramped stall, Hindi pop music plays and local shoppers come and go in the market beyond. Sharing my table, everyone is digging in, indulging in this luxurious meal conceived by royalty, but enjoyed by the masses.

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

Sep.21.17

What, You’ve Never Had Bright Red Foam on Your Drinkable Oatmeal Before?

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Atole rojo in Oaxaca

It was my first time with a tour group. I’d come to Cuajimoloyas, in the northern highlands of Oaxaca, to forage for wild mushrooms during Mexico’s rainy season. Instead of navigating the forests alone, I joined a band of women and their local guide, a man named Celestino, for the town’s yearly Regional Wild Mushroom Festival.

We’d spent the previous day hunting, trying to collect the greatest variety of edible and non-edible toadstools. We woke up early the next morning for the announcement of the winning team by the fairgrounds at the base of the mountain.

I’d packed poorly for the July chill, and wandered the booths proffering various mushroom-based dishes in search of something to warm my bones. I spotted Celestino huddled under a tent, blowing on his hands as he waited for his breakfast. He was having atole, a traditional corn-based beverage thats something like a drinkable oatmeal. It sounded perfect. I ordered my own and we waited at the sole vinyl-covered table under the tent, elbow-to-elbow with an elderly Mexican couple.

When Celestino’s aunt, the woman running the booth, brought over two brown ceramic bowls brimming with bright red foam, I tried to tell her this was not what we’d ordered. “You’ve never had atole rojo before?” Celestino asked. “It’s for special occasions.”

Flavored with a powder of toasted corn, cacao beans, and brick-red achiote paste, the atole was steamed and then frothed on top to create a crown of festive bubbles. I dunked a strip of pan criollo (rich, eggy local bread) into the biggest bubble on top, tasting the icy foam. Celestino held his bowl in his hands, slurping it like a mug of coffee. I followed suit: the bowl was hot to the touch, the initial chill of the top layer giving way to an earthy, slightly-sweet molten drink.

Celestino poked my side. “That’s us, second place!” he said, and I heard the judges repeating our names. We went up to accept our prize, still clutching mugs of our celebratory atole in our hands.

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

Sep.19.17

Breakfast in Kashmir is So Good, They Have it Twice

by Sophia Ann French

Czot in Kashmir

It was my first time on a houseboat and my first trip to Kashmir. Standing on the deck of the boat, I was excited to start working on my first film when Ajaz, the owner of the houseboat, brought me a cup of tea. It was the first time I tasted Kashmiri nun chai. We Indians love our chai with milk, sugar, and, at times, I add a dash of cardamom seeds to make a Mumbai-style masala chai, but nun chai wasn’t like any other tea I’ve had. It was pink, and salty. (It’s usually served with milk, but I had it without.) I took a reluctant sip and was surprised to enjoy the unusual flavor. Over the three months we spent in Kashmir, nun chai became a staple at every breakfast.

The union of bread with tea is an age-old tradition, and a Kashmiri breakfast pairs the savory tea with fresh-baked loaves from a kandar waz—these bakeries are found in every neighborhood across the valley and the bread is baked in a wood-fired, clay tandoor. On the first morning, Ajaz served us czot and lavasa. Czot is made by mixing refined white flour with water and kneading pieces of dough into thin rectangles. The kandar makes impressions on each piece with his fingertips before putting it into the oven, so the bread has ridges across the surface. I’d smear dollops of butter across its auburn crust and dunk it in nun chai. Lavasa is an unleavened flat bread with a blistery surface. I didn’t enjoy its stretchy texture when dipped in tea, so a Kashmiri colleague made me a delicious roll by stuffing the lavasa with barbecued meat and chickpeas.

The Kashmiris love their bread and chai so much they have it twice every morning. The film’s crew would leave for reconnaissance soon after breakfast, but I stayed back on the houseboat to interview the locals about militancy in Kashmir. The valley has been disputed territory between India and Pakistan for decades. Kashmiris who cross the border into Pakistan and return to India to fight are called militants. Ajaz, like many young Kashmiris, didn’t go the militant way, but is caught between the crossfire between the militants and the Indian army.

In the middle of his interview, Ajaz excused himself for a few minutes and returned with a tray of the pink tea and bakarkhani, a round bread that looks like puffed pastry. It’s brown and crispy on the outside with soft fluffy layers on the inside. I’d never seen this at breakfast, and Ajaz explained that the Kashmiris have specific breads for specific times. Bakarkhani and nun chai became part of our 10 a.m. ritual, when Ajaz and I ruminated over the differences between Kashmir’s past—when it was a center for Sufism and Shaivism—and its fraught present.

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

Sep.18.17

If Nothing Else, This Experimental Utopia Has a Pretty Good Café

by Ranjini Rao

Bagels in Auroville

With the blaze of the August sun in our eyes and yet a lightness to our step in Pondicherry, India’s beloved, dreamy beach town, and an erstwhile French colony, we set out for Auroville to have breakfast at the Auroville Bakery Café.

Our host—a dear friend who had grown up talking, breathing, and eating all things French in Pondy—had raved enough about it for us to want to sample the food there.

Auroville is an ambitious utopian living experiment, courtesy of the vision of philosopher-guru Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mirra Alfassa, aka The Mother. Founded in 1968, it was designed as a village-for-all, governed by multicultural harmony, where people from all over the world are welcome.

The foundation for the bakery was laid by an Austrian banker, Otto, who moved to Auroville in the 80s and collaborated with bakers in the area for a while. The café in the back is a recent addition to the bakery, we were informed. The bakery was created by several eager hands, trying and testing recipes ranging from brioche to knackebrots to provide an excellent patisserie for Aurovilleans in the 90s.

The café’s newest crew—a German, a Ukrainian, a handful of Indians, and a couple of French nationals—came aboard in the 2000s, and decided to offer beverages, too. They started the café out small, with a few vibrant chairs and tables assembled under the trees in the backyard garden, but they were determined to serve big, satisfying breakfasts.

The menu was handwritten on an overused blackboard, and didn’t seem too exciting at first. But on closer inspection, we saw the items of which we’re sadly deprived in Bangalore: bagels with cheese, salads loaded with proteins, fresh fruit platters, wholewheat sandwiches with fresh cheese, quiches, tarts, croissants.

We ordered a bagel with cheese, a fresh fruit platter, and a grilled vegetable and cheese sandwich to share, plus juice, tea, and coffees.

The bread in the sandwich was a far cry from the supermarket variety to which we’re accustomed, which is softened and aerated with additives. This bread was crusty, substantial, with a nutty, earthy taste. The cheese was fresh, thick-cut, and refreshingly light on sourness and saltiness, unlike the aged cheeses sold outside, preserved with chemicals. It was a delicious morning.

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

Sep.15.17

A Delicious Breakfast Ruined by Reality

by Corinne Redfern

Barbati in Bangladesh

It’s our third day of reporting in Jessore, and we’re starving. A tightly-bound team of four, we’re supposed to be covering child marriage—a weighty topic that’s reduced our sleep and raised our stress levels—and our stomachs are the ones suffering for it.

Somehow I’ve taken to subsisting on peanut butter scooped out of the jar with the end of a pen. The roadside café near our hotel doesn’t appeal—five men hover on the steps outside and stare. But our fixer is insistent: it’s time to find food. Plus it’s shaded, and there appears to be tea.

Female foreigners don’t come here often, we learn. The proprietor, Mahmoud, nervously knots and unknots the front of his navy-blue lunghi as we help ourselves to the pots of food: shoveling saucers full of rice onto wet stainless steel plates and drowning everything in heavily-spiced daal.

The food is good; hot and heavy. But it feels like we’re getting in the way. We push our chairs back to leave, and relief flushes Mahmoud’s face.

Less than 24 hours later and we’re back. It’s barely morning, but the day’s interviews are already going awry and we need to regroup. Today, Mahmoud is waiting. As we elbow our way to reach a space at the back, the 66-year-old stands beaming before producing a red plastic lunchbox from behind his back. A handmade paper bag follows; unwrapped to reveal eight flour-soft pathiri folded in four. Water is procured and ceremoniously poured.

He told his wife about us last night, Mahmoud explains, lunghi-knot intact as he checks the table arrangement one last time, and finally lifts the red plastic lid to reveal a hot, spiced pile of green beans and garlic. So she made us a breakfast of barbati, just in case we were still in town.

They were worried, he adds, in case yesterday’s food wasn’t good enough. That day, he hadn’t known we were coming. He hadn’t had time to prepare.
We try to send compliments back to the chef, but Mahmoud insists he could have cooked the barbati himself. It’s just a matter of heating salt, garlic, turmeric and onions, dicing potato and chopping up yard-long beans; stirring the ingredients with water until they soften and the spices find their way under the skins.

After all, he should know. He’d taught his wife the recipe himself two decades earlier, although she’s improved on it since, and won’t tell him what’s changed. How old was she when you married her, we ask, mouths full and distracted. It’s only as our breakfast digests that it dawns on us he answered “ten.”

Photo by: Rds26/Wikipedia Commons

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

Sep.14.17

Battle Lines Drawn in Philly’s Cookie Wars

by Gina Zammit

Spiced Wafers in Philadelphia

Like jack-o’-lanterns on Halloween, another black-and-orange tradition arrives each fall in Philadelphia. Spiced wafers from two dueling companies, Ivins and Sweetzels, appear on store shelves in late August.

These curious cookies have rabid local fans, outselling even Oreos throughout their autumn reign. But, come the first signs of peppermint sticks and jolly Saint Nick, which, sadly, increasingly encroaches on the fall season, just as mysteriously as they arrived, they disappear.

Spiced wafers are best compared to ginger snaps, although there are distinct differences. Containing a mix of autumnal spices including ginger, cinnamon, allspice, molasses, and cloves, these tough cookies have a more complex flavor than traditional ginger snaps. The wafers are baked three times longer than most cookie varieties, achieving a hard, but not rock-solid, texture, “born to be dunked.” They are best served alongside another fall favorite, apple cider (preferably from the local Bauman’s Cider Company), with a cold glass of milk, or spicy tea.

Although the cookies are confined to the greater Philly area, including parts of southern New Jersey, there is a fierce rivalry between the brands’ devotees. Sweetzels supporters favor the less spicy, sweeter version, while Ivins fans prefer the longer-lasting kick of allspice, and a cookie lighter on the molasses. But despite their loyal followings, the cookies’ origins are somewhat mysterious.

Sweetzels’ website proudly proclaims that “The Old Black & Orange Magic is Back!” and a “Philadelphia original since 1910!” Sweetzels were originally produced by the Tritzel Baking Company, which was based in the Philly suburb of Landsdale. Along with the cookies (Sweetzels), the company also manufactured potato chips (Chipzels) and Pretzels. Eventually, the company shuttered in 1965, was bought by the Borzillo family, and is now located in Nooristown in Montgomery County.

However, tracking down information on Ivins proved to be more challenging, so I went directly to the source. Danielle D’Elia, Communications & Government Relations Manager for the supermarket chain, Acme Markets, and Nina Borzillo, daughter of Sweetzels owner Robert D. Borzillo, both helped enlighten me.

Public information about Ivins is a little harder to discover, because it’s a proprietary brand of Acme Markets. But it didn’t start out that way.

According to Acme’s company records, Ivins Baking Company was originally located on Broad Street in Philadelphia. They sold their “penny cookies” at Acme Markets for a number of years, until the company closed its doors sometime around the 1960s. Acme Markets quickly swooped in on that opportunity and purchased both the company name and the recipe. Although the spiced wafers are no longer produced in Pennsylvania, they’re sold today at all 178 Acme locations and remain unchanged from the original recipe. (Sweetzels, on the other hand, are sold at most other stores, but not at Acme Markets.)

The wafers are rumored to have come from a German ginger-snap recipe, modified to its current version during the colonial era. Now, they are the essence of autumn in Philadelphia and a staple at tailgating events. Or, as Nina Borzillo prefers, with morning coffee.

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